After almost five years of preparation, we are now ready to announce a major collection of essays by the great Italian scholar Mirko Tavoni, available in English for the first time. Renaissance Linguistics in Italy and in Europe, translated by Matt Coneys and edited on behalf of our Italian Perspectives series by Simon Gilson, now has its cover and publicity material up. This always feels like a milestone in any long-haul editorial project. The Archivio Storico Civico e Biblioteca Trivulziana has very kindly granted us permission to use a remarkable illuminated image from their copy of the Grammatica del Donato (Cod. Triv. 2167), an exquisite treasure from the Renaissance court of the Sforza family. It was commissioned to assist with – or perhaps simply to glorify – the education of their newborn prince, Massimiliano. The Biblioteca Trivulziana says this about the makers of the book:
The script denotes an elegant humanistic quality in which one can recognise the hand of the renowned calligrapher Giovanni Battista Lorenzi, while the miniaturists include some of the most famous artists of the period: Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis, the Master of the Epithalamion of Jason de Mayno, Giovan Pietro Birago and the Master of Anna Sforza.
Always good to see makers of books getting their due. (This blog has no byline: will I be known to history as the Master of the Legenda Publicity Items?) But what is particularly notable, besides the Renaissance impetus of the project and the exquisite workmanship, is that this is a grammatical textbook: and it is a grammar of Italian, not of Latin. The vernacular Italian language, partly through its adoption by Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, has at last become a language fit for princes.
A textbook is not an army, though, and the Sforzas of Milan were to be crushed between the French, the Swiss and the Austrians. Massimiliano was just seven when his father was imprisoned by the French, and only became Duke because the Swiss installed him in 1513. He lost it again in 1515, and under duress sold his claim to the French for 30,000 ducats. In 1522 his younger brother Francesco regained Milan, but both brothers died without heir, and then many complicated things happened involving the Habsburgs.
Rulers come and go: languages are more tenacious. Vernacular Italian was never to be overthrown, and remains of course the language of poetry and prose, of art and culture, on the peninsula today. (To be fair, there's one TV show being broadcast in proto-Italic Latin, second series just out, but I think we can safely call that an exception. Latin, like the Sforza family, is long gone.)